Over the next month every major college football program will host hundreds of kids at their summer camps who come there hoping to make an impression. The pressure that these teens put on themselves can be enormous as they try to measure up. For quarterback hopefuls, it's even more stressful. A pecking order develops and prospects--whether they know it or not--are connected. They learn fast how small these windows are. That's one of the reasons that makes Logan Thomas' evolution as a quarterback as different as any big-time college QB's story as we've heard in a very long time.
For starters, the imposing 6-6, 262-pound junior who made second-team All-ACC last year in his debut season as a starter for Virginia Tech was a standout high school quarterback who actually didn't want to play the position in college. Most gifted young QBs now won't even consider a college who won't give them a crack at playing the position. Rivals ranked Thomas as the nation's best tight end prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. Thomas, as Tech QB coach Mike O'Cain is quick to tell you, also isn't one of these guys “who has been to 37 QB camps” since the time when he could barely walk.
“I grew up picturing myself as a receiver,” said Thomas, who as a high school senior threw 20 TD passes and ran for 11 more.
Was the kid just being a realist? After all, how many guys quite as huge as Thomas did you see playing QB in the NFL? Those guys were making millions as tight ends. “That's the way I was looking at it coming out of high school,” he said this spring. “But now Cam (Newton) has kinda opened the door.”
Thomas' size and athleticism (he was clocked in the 40 at 4.63 this spring) prompted many to make comparisons to the former Auburn great. Thomas' first season as a starter wasn't at that level, but he did throw for over 3,000 yards, ran for 469 more while totaling 30 TDs and completing 60 percent of his passes, leading the Hokies to the Sugar Bowl.
Good stuff, especially when you consider it was an experiment when the Tech staff told Thomas they wanted to see what the tight end could do as a QB on the eve of fall camp three years ago. Thomas always saw himself as a team-first guy, so he was willing. “We said, ‘You'll redshirt next year, sit behind Tyrod (Taylor) a year and have a chance to be a three-year starter,” recalls O'Cain.
“So many of these young men are prima donnas. If they're sitting that first year, they're transferring. Logan's not like that at all. He is so unassuming. He doesn't have all of that stuff roaming around in his head.”
Many top college QBs these days have been working with private quarterback coaches since they were toddlers. They attend dozens of camps and combines, which have started to take on a pageant circuit feel in recent years as parents are hoping to develop the next Peyton Manning. Perspective can get skewed. Patience wears out in a heartbeat. Everyone seems to be on the clock, ready to jab at the re-set button. O'Cain sees Thomas as fortunate he didn't come from that path. “A lot of times, people are not allowing these young men to be kids. They're pushing, pushing and pushing. The kids become a little bit spoiled. Logan's the opposite and it's refreshing.”
O'Cain was sold the Thomas experiment would work almost immediately as the new QB was handling the snap count with motion and moving people around while grasping concepts of the Hokies' system that first week in training camp. In 2010, when Thomas was forced into action on a crucial third-and-long at Miami after Taylor went down, the young QB demonstrated he had a more advanced understanding of the position. Thomas coolly connected on a 24-yard first down pass.
“They weren't playing what we thought they were gonna play,” O'Cain recalls of the third-and-16 situation. “We thought it'd be a 2-deep with man-under. Instead (Miami) was playing just a plain old 2-deep. Logan came off his primary read to the second one, making the right read and a great throw. You like to see that. He'd never been in a pressure situation.”
Thomas, of course, is still a work in progress. He says he has to improve his decision-making. “I threw 10 interceptions and a couple of em were very costly. I also had my fair share of fumbles.”
One rival coach who faced the Hokies early in 2011 said they didn't think Thomas was accurate enough to be an elite QB, but O'Cain said his protégé as really improved on that front thanks to improved footwork and mechanics and added reps. Thomas, though, does still have a tendency to drop the ball and wind up.
“One thing he needs to get better at is seeing the entire field pre-snap,” O'Cain says.
To continue his development, Thomas, spent his own money to fly out to California for a week to work with private QB coach George Whitfield, who has trained Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. (Whitfield charges $200 a day for the college QBs, he says.) "For the most part it's gonna reinforce what I'm telling him," says O'Cain, "and Logan may pick up a little something on the side. It also goes with knowing George. I don't worry about him messing him up."
Whitfield had Thomas, among other things, practicing his drops in the chilly Pacific Ocean as waves kept rushing in. “It's all about being strong and having a strong base,” Thomas said.
It'll be fascinating to see how much better Thomas can be in his second season as a starter. He is a very intriguing prospect NFL scouts say. He doesn't have the great David Wilson to spark the offense any more. In fact, Thomas is just one of three starters back on offense. No question, this is his team now. We'll see if he can get this program to finish ranked higher than 10th for the first time since 2007.